The Raven King

I was fifteen when I saw David Bowie perform on Saturday Night Live and what I saw that night changed my life.

In one song, he was a pale, unsmiling man in eyeliner and an ugly skirt. In another, an out-of-control puppet telling me how great it was to be a boy. But not really. For a third, he was a scary man-doll who sold the world.

My first thought was, “That guy’s going to get his ass kicked.”

My second was, “Wait….people can do this?”

The performance rocked my little suburban world. It was disorienting. Unsettling. Thrilling.

Monday at school, I was right back doing what I always did – wearing my turtleneck with hearts on it, eating Twinkies, cheering for the home team – but not quite as wholeheartedly as before. Because the man in the ugly skirt was still there. At the edge of my consciousness. Singing. Laughing. Taunting. Beckoning. Daring me to look past the endless sunshine of morning in Ronald Reagan’s America to bolder, wider, darker horizons.

The man in the ugly skirt has been with me ever since, but today he’s gone. His magnificent voice has been stilled. And yet, in this awful silence, a single black feather drifts down. Like a gift from a raven-king. Like a talisman. A dare.

Keep on, it says to us.

Keep singing. Keep writing. Keep painting. Keep pushing. Keep risking.

Make Death work his balls off for you.

And when he finally shows up, look him in the eye, and sing him a song so he understands that there’s a hero in the room, and it’s not him.

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